In many ways, civilian and military divorces in Arizona are similar. Both are carried out in the state’s civil courts, both involve the formal dissolution of the marriage, and both address issues like child custody, child support and property division. That being said, there are several key differences between the two, and it is important for divorcing servicemembers and their spouses to have at least a cursory understanding of how they differ. For example, military divorces are governed not only by state laws set forth in Title 25, Chapter 3 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, but also by military provisions like the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA).
The biggest variations between civilian and military divorces lie in the area of property division. Not only are there property concerns that don’t exist in the civilian world – commissary and exchange privileges, military retirement funds and Veterans’ Administration (VA) disability benefits to name a few – there are also unique regulations like the ” 10/10 rule” that could affect the outcome of a military divorce.
The USFSPA in particular addresses the intangible concerns of divorcing military couples when one party is a civilian by offering guidance as to how state-level family courts can consider military retirement benefits, commissary and exchange privileges and military-funded health care.
It is important to note that the USFSPA does not automatically transfer retirement benefits to a former spouse upon the retirement of a servicemember, but instead grants state legislatures the right to consider those benefits as part of the marital estate and handle their distribution. Arizona’s state laws do not specifically address the issue of military retirement benefits being considered part of the couple’s martial property, but they do clearly exempt military disability benefits from consideration.
Another unique military property division issue arises when the military servicemember has elected to purchase Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) coverage. The financial protections offered by the SBP (payment of benefits to the surviving spouse) do not carry on after a divorce. Unless specific action is taken to note a particular beneficiary, SBP payments go to the spouse at the time of the servicemember’s death. This is particularly important to note when the servicemember has remarried, since the former spouse is essentially cut off from SBP funds at that point. Such a beneficiary designation might be ordered by the court as part of the couple’s divorce decree to ensure that the former spouse is protected financially after the servicemember passes away.
Federal and state regulations, including the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) help protect the civil rights of active duty personnel by preventing certain types of legal actions from being commenced upon them while they are deployed long-term out of the state or country. Covered legal actions include divorce, child custody, child support and other family-related matters, which can be delayed until such a time when the servicemember is present to make his or her case. The SCRA provides that, in the event that a judgment is issued against a deployed servicemember, it can be reopened for a period of time once he or she has returned home.
Do you have questions about military divorce? Want to learn more about the differences between how Arizona treats military divorces versus civilian ones? For answers to your questions, seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney in your area who has knowledge of the unique military divorce process.